Jeremy Lin: The Highs and Lows of His NBA Journey

Nov 7, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; Charlotte Hornets point guard Jeremy Lin (7) smiles to the crowd during the first half against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; Charlotte Hornets point guard Jeremy Lin (7) smiles to the crowd during the first half against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

Jeremy Lin is entering his seventh NBA season. Lin has experienced plenty of highs, and some lows as well throughout his journey. But how did Lin get to where he is now?

In 2010, the Golden State Warriors signed a little-known guard out of Harvard named Jeremy Lin. At the time, it was a nice story as Jeremy Lin was a local product out of Palo Alto, California. Lin’s home town is less than 30 miles away from Oracle Arena, where the Warriors play in Oakland.

Lin joined a Warriors team that, while not very good, was set at the guard spots with a young Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis trying to coexist. When Lin did get to play, he wasn’t in games for long. He played in just 29 games for the Warriors in the 2010-11 season. Lin averaged just 9.8 minutes per game, scoring 2.6 points per game while dishing out 1.4 assists.

In December, 2011, the Warriors waived Jeremy Lin. At the time, Warriors’ sources said the move was done for salary cap purposes. The Warriors let Lin go to create the necessary cap space to offer DeAndre Jordan a max deal. The Clippers would go on to match Golden State’s offer.

Lin was then claimed off of waivers by the Houston Rockets.

Lin’s first tenure with Houston did not last long. On December 24, 2011, the Rockets waived Lin. Houston had signed Samuel Dalembert, and needed to clear a roster spot. To do so, Lin was let go. This marked the second time in an 16-day span that Lin had been released.

Perhaps Lin would have had a built in excuse to give up—to think that, at just 23, it wasn’t too late to try something other than basketball. After all, he had been cut twice in less than 20 days. For a player who was undrafted to begin with, that is not a great sign. But Lin did not have anything close to that mindset.

What happened next would catapult Lin onto not just national stage, but the global stage.

On December 27, 2011, Lin was claimed by the New York Knicks.  New York needed depth after losing then-rookie Iman Shumpert to a knee injury. Finally, Lin had gotten an opportunity, and he was ready to make the most of it.

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Jeremy Lin would go on one of the most captivating stretches in NBA history, which would become known as “Linsanity.” In February 2012, Jeremy Lin bursted onto the NBA scene. He scored 25 points, along with seven assists and five rebounds in a 99-92 win over the Nets. He hit a game-winning three in Toronto, to knock off the Raptors 90-87. He scored 38 points at MSG against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. The success was eye-opening, and the popularity was unprecedented.

On March 24, 2012, Jeremy Lin injured his knee, and it ultimately ended his tenure with the Knicks. There were reportedly disagreements between Lin and the Knicks over the condition of his knee, and whether or not he could play.

Fast forward to free agency, 2012. Lin was no longer the kid from Harvard. He was the phenomenon that swept the basketball world. In 35 games with the Knicks, Lin averaged 14.6 points and 6.2 assists per game. Upon examination, those numbers don’t quite jump off the page. But “Linsanity” was about how Lin scored those points. With each successful game, the popularity snowballed, and the expectations eventually increased.

The Rockets—the team that decided to let Lin depart before the Knicks picked him up—signed Lin in free agency. The “poison pill” deal was for three years, and worth $25 million. The Knicks did not match it, and Lin was off to Houston.

At the time, it was viewed as a good deal for the Rockets, and a questionable decision by the Knicks to not match. However, in the time since, it has become clear that some key members of the Knicks didn’t see Lin as a good fit.

In February of this year, Amar’e Stoudemire had this to say regarding Lin and the Knicks:

"If [Lin] stayed [in 2012] it would’ve been cool. But everyone wasn’t a fan of him being a new star. So he didn’t stay long. Jeremy was a great, great guy, great with teammates, [he] worked hard. He put the work in. We were proud of him having his moment. A lot of times you got to enjoy somebody else’s success. That wasn’t the case for us during [Linsanity]. You got to enjoy that and let that player enjoy himself and cherish those moments. He was becoming a star and I don’t think everyone was pleased with that."

From Stoudemire’s comments, it’s abundantly clear that there wouldn’t have been a future with the Knicks for Lin. Stoudemire notes, without directly naming names, that Lin’s own Knicks teammates weren’t enjoying “Linsanity.” He also reiterates twice that some within the team weren’t happy with Lin’s newfound fame. Stoudemire would know the situation as well as anyone, seeing as he was a key part of that Knicks team.

When Jeremy Lin went to Houston, his career changed. He was no longer the fun-loving story of a Harvard educated guard who exceeded initial expectations. He became the $25 million man who was expected to take the Rockets to new heights.

Looking back, it’s easy to see that it would have been tough for Lin to live up to all the hype created by “Linsanity” and his first big contract. To say Jeremy Lin flamed out in Houston is too harsh, but he wasn’t a 25 points per game player that many expected. During his two seasons in Houston, Lin put up 13 points per game and 5.2 assists per game. Now take a look back at the overall “Linsanity” numbers. His Rockets numbers aren’t that far off from what he averaged during his time with the Knicks. Sure, some games consisted of 30-plus points performances, but Lin was about a 14 points per game player overall.

What changed in Houston wasn’t Lin. It was the level he was expected to perform at. In Lin’s defense, he put up similar totals to that of his Knicks days. Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy fans who expected him to reach additional unprecedented heights. In also didn’t help that James Harden was the ball-dominant guard on the team.

Jeremy Lin played in 153 games in Houston over two seasons. In July 2014, the Rockets shipped Lin to the Los Angeles Lakers. By this point, the perception of Lin had changed. Just over two years prior, he had taken the NBA by storm. Now, he was regarded as the player who didn’t live up to the contract he signed in Houston.

Lin played 74 games for the Lakers, making 30 starts. He averaged 11.2 points and 4.6 assists per game. It wasn’t flashy like his Knicks tenure, but Lin showed his doubters that he could still be a productive piece to a team.

In July 2015, Lin signed with the Charlotte Hornets. Lin’s short tenure in Charlotte was productive, as he averaged 11.7 points, three assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game. He played in 78 games, but started just 13 games. He was mainly used as Charlotte’s sixth man. The logjam in Charlotte prompted Lin to look elsewhere this offseason, as he wanted an opportunity to start in the NBA once again.

Enter the Brooklyn Nets.

In a lot of ways, Jeremy Lin and the Nets are a perfect match. Brooklyn, with a roster filled with youth, was seeking a veteran who could step in immediately and start at point guard. Lin was looking for precisely that, a team which would anoint him the starter from day one. And, oh yeah, did we mention the New York connection?

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect to this story is that Lin has returned to New York.

Will Lin put up “Linsanity” type numbers simply because he’s back in the borough? No. But is he expected to be a productive player on the Nets who can mentor some of the younger guards along the way? Absolutely. And Lin has proven he can handle that.

Brooklyn signed Lin to a three-year deal, worth $36 million. This deal marks the largest contract he has signed in the NBA. Lin is deserving of this deal. Some may view it as an overpay, but Lin worked hard to restore his reputation in the minds of fans. He has, by all accounts, always been a good teammate. And don’t forget: the Nets had to spend money somewhere.

Brooklyn had offer sheets of $50 million and $75 million matched on Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe, respectively. With that being the case, Lin is absolutely not a bad option at his current salary.

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Lin’s career has reached large personal highs, and subsequently caused him to deal with the lows that came from larger expectations. Many people were down on Lin when times got tough, but he has re-established himself in the NBA. As a result, he’ll now be the starting point guard for the Brooklyn Nets when they tip off the 2016-17 season at the Boston Celtics, on October 26.